Diabetes is not a single organ system condition. The increased sugar levels can affect multiple body systems, and the eyes are not spared either. Diabetic retinopathy is a broad term to indicate the diseased condition of the retina (where the light falls and images are sent to the brain for perceiving an image) as a result of diabetes. Here’s what happens:
- The macula is a portion in the back portion of the retina which controls how finely the images are perceived.
- What happens is that the blood supply to the retina is affected, thereby causing a buildup of fluid inside the retina, which is known as macular edema.
- The affected blood vessels, if left untreated, may also rupture over a period of time, leading to dark spots on the cornea (white portion of the eye).
The DME or diabetic macular edema can be either focused or diffuse, depending on how they appear.
- If focal, it is because of generalized abnormalities in the eyes’ blood vessels.
- Diffuse DME is due to the thinning of the capillaries.
Risk Factors for DME
In addition to diabetes, the following also can lead to a person having DME. The reason is also that people who are diabetic often will have one or more of the following conditions:
- Fluid retention in the legs (often due to heart failure)
- High cholesterol levels
- Low levels of protein
- Family history of complications of diabetes
The onset of DME will happen gradually and can affect almost 40% of the people who have diabetes after their 60s. The following symptoms should raise a suspicion of DME.
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Not able to differentiate colors
- Seeing floaters
A doctor will do a dilated eye exam and a visual acuity test to confirm the diagnosis. If suspected, an angiogram, to see how the blood flows in the eyes, is also done to establish the diagnosis.
Medical treatment for DME includes using drugs that stop the formation of new blood vessels and to stop leaking of blood.
More definitive therapy, however, is using laser photocoagulation where a small beam of the laser is used to seal off leaking blood vessels. This may need to be repeated to seal off blood vessels that may appear again.
Though the condition of DME sounds scary, the good news is that it can be prevented.
- For anyone diagnosed with diabetes, yearly eye exams are a must. This helps to identify the onset of DME at an early stage and arrest it before it becomes widespread.
- Sugar levels have to be monitored and controlled adequately so that other complications of diabetes are prevented.
With the incidence of diabetes increasing, more people are affected by it. However, there is also increased awareness and better medical help available today than a few decades earlier. Keep your diabetes in check, and your vision will be good.